Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Confusion of Analogies

A quick thought I had on another argument I hear Christians use against evolution. It goes something like: "Just as Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead, which contradicts the laws of science, so we shouldn't let the scientific claims of evolution get us to give up our belief in a created world. ("Created" here meaning by some means other than evolution) In other words, if we're willing to believe in one unscientific miracle, why not another? Those Christian evolution-believers are being selective in how they hold God's word above science!

I'd like to point something out: I think this argument is comparing apples and oranges. We have specific evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, both from scripture and circumstantially from extrabiblical sources (Jewish/Romans historians mentioning that Jesus' followers believed He rose from the dead). However, there is no comparable evidence that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Skeptics who dispute this point don't marshal their own counterevidence; they try to show why the evidence Christians use to draw their conclusion is insufficient. What the belief in the resurrection is contradicting is not specific counterevidence, it is the generally observed principle that dead people don't come back to life.

Now compare the case of evolution. In this case, we have evidence in the fossil record that, while less unambiguous than the historical evidence that Jesus rose, still accommodates evolution as the best scientific theory we currently have to explain it. What more literal readers of Genesis are doing is not providing a better scientific theory to explain the evidence; they are trying to show why the evidence evolutionists use to draw their conclusion is insufficient. What the belief in evolution is contradicting is not specific counterevidence; it is the generally assumed principle that the Bible should be read as literally/historically true.

Sound familiar?

So I don't think the parallel in this argument goes the way its proponents would like it to. The analogy to be drawn is not God's word trumping the claims of this world (which, as I have argued in my first post on the Fall, is not a healthy view of truth). Instead, it is new evidence trumping a preexisting, inductively drawn theory that is better treated as descriptive than prescriptive. The laws of science are descriptive by nature; we can use them to try to look for patterns and make predictions, but if new observations don't match the predictions, we don't say, "the observations must be mistaken because they contradict the law"--no, we change the law to explain the new observation. Likewise, the literal/historical method for reading scripture is not given to us as a prescriptive law that all of scripture is supposed to comply with, and applying it prescriptively to disregard things is a mistake.

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